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A STUDY 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND 



BY 



WILLIAM, MICHAEL ROSSETTI. 




Eonbon: 

PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION, 

MDCCCLXXXVI. 






A STUDY 






OF 



SHELLEY'S "PROMETHEUS UNBOUND." 




Of this Book 
Twenty-five Copies only have been printed. 




PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, 

FROM THE ORIGINAL PICTURE BY CLINT 



SHELLEY'S 
PROMETHEUS UNBOUND, 



A STUDY 



OF ITS 



MEANING AND PERSONAGES. 



BY 

WILLIAM M. ROSSETTI. 




zmxcm? 



Hontoon : 

PRINTED FOR PRIVATE DISTRIBUTION. 
1886. 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UHBOUHD. 

A STUDY OF ITS MEANING AND PERSONAGES. 

BY WILLIAM M. ROSSETTI. 

Being a Lecture delivered to the Shelley Society 
on Jth December, 1886. 



Ladies and Gentlemen, — 

I have undertaken to deliver to the members of 
the Shelley Society a lecture constituting a study of our 
poet's most colossal performance, the Prometheus Unbound. 
This is, I am fully aware, a task which might well appall 
the boldest of Shelleyites : nor do I undertake it with a 
light heart, or with any idea of rendering adequate justice 
to it from any point of view — still less from all the points 
of view which might properly be taken. It would be 
possible to consider the Prometheus Unbound — 1, in its 
essential meaning or main outline and purport ; 2, as a 
poem and work of art ; and 3, in detail, or the individual 
significance and value of its successive passages. I can 
only expect, in the short space at my disposal, to treat the 
drama in the first of these relations — z.£,, in its essential 
meaning or main outline and purport ; in other words, I 
will explain to you what I regard as having been Shelley's 
intention in the substance and structure of his masterpiece, 
the Prometheus Unbound. My interpretation may be right, 
or it may be wrong : it will certainly fall very far short 
of being final or exhaustive. It is at any rate the out- 
come of repeated readings and prolonged consideration. 
I might add that this is by no means the first time that I 
have put into writing, or into print, my view of the meaning 



8 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

of the poem ; but it is the first time that I have done so 
with any moderate degree of fullness or precision, and 
with the opportunity of quoting from the poem itself those 
passages upon which the interpretation has to rely for its 
stability — what the French call the pieces justificatives. 

Without further preface, I will now come to close 
quarters with Prometheus Unbound ; and, asking you to 
bear in mind what I have just said — that I deal only with 
its essential meaning or main outline and purport — I shall 
analyse this meaning under five principal heads — i,What 
is the Myth, or (as we might call it) the vertebrated skele- 
ton, of the Prometheus Unbound ; 2, Who is Prometheus ; 
3, Who is Asia ; 4, Who is Jupiter ; 5, Who is Demogorgon. 
And 1, as to the Myth. 

In debating the Myth of Prometheus Unbound, I shall 
leave entirely on one side the question as to what is the 
primary Greek myth about Prometheus the son of Iapetus. 
He must take care of himself: and ^Eschylus, or any other 
poet or promulgator of that myth, must take care of him- 
self. With Shelley alone, and his creation the Prometheus 
Unbound, can I now be concerned. He voluntarily and 
determinately parted company with ^schylus, saying in 
his preface that he was "averse from a catastrophe so 
feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the 
Oppressor of mankind." 

The general myth of Prometheus Unbound is set forth 
very definitely in a leading speech of Asia in Act 2. I 
will read it in extenso, and afterwards consider in detail its 
terms and bearing. 

" There was the Heaven and Earth at first, 
And Light and Love ; then Saturn, from whose throne 
Time fell, an envious shadow. Such the state 
Of the earth's primal spirits beneath his sway- 
As the calm joy of flowers and living leaves 
Before the wind or sun has withered them, 
And semivital worms. But he refused 
The birthright of their being, knowledge, power, 
The skill which wields the elements, the thought 
Which pierces this dim universe like light, 
Self-empire, and the majesty of love ; 
For thirst of which they fainted. Then Prometheus 
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter, 
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,' 
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven. 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND, 

To know nor faith nor love nor law, to be 

Omnipotent but friendless, is to reign. 

And Jove now reigned ; for on the race of Man 

First famine, and then toil, and then disease, 

Strife, wounds, and ghastly death unseen before, 

Fell ; and the unseasonable seasons drove, 

"With alternating shafts of frost and fire, 

Their shelterless pale tribes to mountain-caves : 

And in their desert hearts fierce wants he sent, 

And mad disquietudes, and' shadows idle 

Of unreal good, which levied mutual war, 

So ruining the lair wherein they raged. 

Prometheus saw, and waked the legioned hopes 

Which sleep within folded elysian flowers, 

Nepenthe, moly, amaranth, fadeless blooms, 

That they might hide with thin and rainbow wings 

The shape of Death ; and Love he sent to bind 

The disunited tendrils of that vine 

"Which bears the wine of life, the human heart ; 

And he tamed fire, — which, like some beast of prey 

Most terrible but lovely, played beneath 

The frown of man, and tortured to his will 

Iron and gold, the slaves and signs of Power, 

And gems and poisons, and all subtlest forms 

Hidden beneath the mountains and the waves. 

He gave Man speech, and speech created thought, 

"Which is the measure of the universe ; 

And science struck the thrones of earth and heaven, 

"Which shook but fell not ; and the harmonious mind 

Poured itself forth in all-prophetic song ; 

And music lifted up the listening spirit, 

Until it walked, exempt from mortal care, 

Godlike, o'er the clear billows of sweet sound ; 

And human hands first mimicked, and then mocked 

With moulded limbs more lovely than its own, 

The human form, till marble grew divine, 

And mothers, gazing, drank the love men see 

Reflected in their race, behold, and perish. 

He told the hidden power of herbs and springs, 

And Disease drank and slept. Death grew like sleep. 

He taught the implicated orbits woven 

Of the wide-wandering Stars ; and how the Sun 

Changes his lair, and by what secret spell 

The pale Moon is transformed when her broad eye 

Gazes not on the interlunar sea. 

He taught to rule, as life directs the limbs, 

The tempest-winged chariots of the ocean 

And the Celt knew the Indian. Cities then 

Were built, and through their snow-like columns flowed 

The warm winds, and the azure ether shone, 

And the blue sea and shadowy hills were seen. 

Such, the alleviations of his state, 

Prometheus gave to man : for which he hangs, 

Withering in destined pain. But who rains down 

Evil, the immedicable plague, which, while 

Man looks on his creation like a God, 

A 2 



io SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

And sees that it is glorious, drives him on, — 

The wreck of his own will, the scorn of Earth, 

The outcast, the abandoned, the a'one? 

Not Jove. While yet his frown shook heaven, ay when 

His adversary from adamantine chains 

Cursed him, he trembled like a slave. Declare 

Who is his master ? Is he too a slave ? " 

This speech is fertile of meaning and suggestion. We 
find that according to Asia (or, let us say, according to 
Shelley) the primal powers of the World were four — 
Heaven, Earth, Light, and Love. This was the world ; 
which, so far as Asia's speech is concerned, is postulated as 
self-existent, — of a creative power no word is breathed by 
her : but it is true that Demogorgon, with whom she is in 
colloquy, had already said that the world and its contents 
were made by God. Then came Saturn, the author of 
Time. Under him human life was agreeable sensation 
without sentiment : life became (as we might express it) 
individuated, but barely self-conscious ; Saturn refused to 
men the birthright of their being — knowledge, power, and 
those other prerogatives named by Asia. The Saturnian 
reign was interrupted by Prometheus. 

"Then Prometheus 
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter, 
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,' 
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven." 

I regard these few words as being supremely important 
to the correct understanding of Prometheus Unbound: but, 
as we are for the present only occupied with the myth of 
the poem, I shall not analyse them here, but leave them 
for consideration when we discuss Prometheus and Jupiter. 
The rule of Jupiter was perfidious and cruel : every kind 
of material and moral evil resulted from it to the race 
of man. Prometheus again came to the rescue. 

"He gave Man speech, and speech created thought, 
Which is the measure of the universe." 

For this, and for his other boons to mankind, was he 
doomed by Jupiter to incessant torture. 

Asia then proceeds (as we have seen) to ask, " Who is the 
Author or Lord of Evil ? " Not Jove, as she says ; for he 
trembled even before his own victim Prometheus. 

11 Who is his master ? Is he too a slave ? " 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. n 

Demogorgon replies — 

1 • All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil : 
Thou know'st if Jupiter be such or no." 

This certainly means, he is a slave. 

Asia next recurs to what Demogorgon had said in the 
earlier part of the colloquy, that God had made the world, 
with all that it contains of thought and sentiment : she 
asks, " Whom call'dst thou God ? " — and Demogorgon re- 
plies (note it well) — 

" I spoke but as ye speak, 
For Jove is the supreme of living things. " 

In other words — There is no creative God, apart from the 
Universe. He adds that the deep truth is imageless — it 
cannot be made palpable in words ; and he intimates that, 
save eternal Love, all things are subject to Fate, Time, 
Occasion, Chance, and Change. Shelley's own ideas in 
theology are probably expressed in these terms with a near 
approach to accuracy. 

Prometheus, chained by Jupiter to Caucasus in torment, 
endures " three-thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours." 
This is a remarkable expression : three-thousand years is 
but a brief estimate even of the historical period of human 
development ; and, as the unbinding of Prometheus ensues 
immediately after his speaking of the three-thousand years, 
it would appear that Shelley contemplated a very early 
awakening and emancipation of the race. But of course 
we must not lay, upon such a point as this, any stress 
beyond what it may naturally have been intended to bear. 
At the end of the three-thousand years Prometheus has 
ceased to disdain or hate Jupiter : he pities him. He 
wishes no living thing to suffer pain. He re-hears, from 
the phantom lips of a phantom Jupiter summoned for the 
purpose, the curse which he had of old pronounced against 
the tyrant god, and he revokes it. He is then re-tormented 
by the Furies with visions chiefly intimating that evil flows 
out of good — as out of the mission of Jesus Christ and the 
French Revolution. The agonizing night closes, a new 
dawn appears, and Panthea, one of the sister Ocean-nymphs 
who attend on Prometheus, rejoins in an Indian vale his 
bride and her sister Asia. 

Asia and Panthea are led by mysterious spirit-songs to 



12 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

the cave of Demogorgon ; with the message that meekness 
alone can unloose to life the doom from under the throne 
of the Eternal. This meekness in Asia corresponds to the 
forgiving mood of mind, the universal charity, which Pro- 
metheus has just evinced. Then ensues the colloquy 
between Asia and Demogorgon, of which we have been 
reading a part. Asia finally asks " When will the destined 
Hour arrive " for the release of Prometheus ? "Behold ! " is 
the reply of Demogorgon. At that very moment the Hour 
arrives : Demogorgon mounts the car which conveys the 
Hour, and they disappear into space, the Spirit of the 
Hour having announced that he comes for the final 
dethronement of Jupiter. 

That which immediately follows seems to have more 
relation to Greek mythology than to the Shelleian myth 
of Prometheus Unbound: at any rate, its connexion with 
the former up to a certain point is clear, while its signifi- 
cance for the purposes of the latter is ambiguous. Jupiter, 
among the gods of Heaven or Olympus, is celebrating his 
nuptials with the sea-goddess Thetis — " Thetis, bright 
image of Eternity." He forecasts that the result of their 
nuptials will be that he will himself become omnipotent, 
subduing his last opponent or rebel, the soul of man. He 
says (and this I cannot attempt to present with more 
clearness and condensation than Shelley gives it) — 

11 Even now have I begotten a strange wonder — 
That fatal Child, the terror of the earth, 
Who waits but till the destined Hour arrive 
(Bearing from Demogorgon's vacant throne 
The dreadful might of ever-living limbs 
Which clothed that awful spirit unbeheld) 
To re-descend and trample out the spark." 

He adds (putting the same thing in slightly different 
words) that the two mighty spirits, himself and Thetis, 
have generated another spirit mightier than either, await- 
ing even now its incarnation from Demogorgon's throne. 
Thus far Jupiter's vision has served him : but his prevision 
has deceived him wofully. Demogorgon at this moment 
arrives. He pronounces the words, 

"lam thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child 
Mightier than thou " — 

and summons Jupiter to descend with him into The abyss 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND: 13 

— " We must dwell together Henceforth in darkness/' For 
one instant Jupiter attempts to resist and destroy his 
antagonist. At the next moment, he has nothing for it but 
abject and unavailing prayers, and he sinks " Dizzily down, 
ever for ever down." 

Hercules now unbinds Prometheus from his Caucasian 
rock, and the Titan is reunited with Asia, who, along with 
Panthea, has arrived in the car of another Spirit of the 
Hour. Prometheus speaks to lone of a shell which had 
been given by Proteus as a nuptial-boon to Asia, breathing 
within it a voice to be accomplished : lone had, in the day 
of calamity, hidden it beneath a rock. He asks lone to 
deliver this shell to the Spirit of the Hour, with " the 
dovelike eyes of Hope ;" the Spirit is to traverse the world 
blowing the shell, for now at length shall its voice be 
accomplished. Mother Earth, who assumes a personal 
presence as she had done in the first scene of the drama, 
says that henceforth all her animal and vegetable progeny 
shall take sweet nutriment. Death shall be but like a 
mother resuming final possession of her child : but she 
cannot define to the questioning Asia what Death actually 
is — only thus — 

" Death is the veil which those who live call life — 
They sleep, and it is lifted." 

Then comes " a Spirit in the likeness of a winged child." 
This is " the Spirit of the Earth " : not Earth herself the 
general mother, but " the delicate spirit that guides the 
earth through heaven." After Prometheus, Asia, and their 
company, have arrived at the cavern which is to be their 
dwelling-place, this Spirit describes what he has seen as 
consequent upon the sounding of the shell by the Spirit of 
the Hour : an all-pervasive amelioration in Man and 
Nature. The Spirit of the Hour next returns, and relates 
the result of his mission. The change which has just 
been wrought was not abruptly startling, but thrones were 
kingless, women elevated in sentiment, "all things had 
put their evil nature off"; kingfishers, for instance (as 
just previously stated by the Spirit of the Earth), having 
become vegetarians. The temples of Jupiter, in his 
various forms or attributes, are now mouldering. • Man 
Is not 'passionless, he is still man ; but he is free from 



14 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

guilt or pain, and can rule, though not evade, "chance 
and death and mutability." In the last act of the 
stupendous drama the Spectres of the dead Hours bear 
Time to his tomb in Eternity, and a new series of Hours, 
which had for ages been suppressed, take their places. 
The Spirits of the Mind, which had consoled Prometheus 
in his hour of agony in the first Act after the torturing 
of the Furies, now reappear, and chant their song of 
deliverance and triumph. Next, lone and Panthea wit- 
ness a grand and glorious vision : the cars of the Moon- 
spirit and of the Earth-spirit. The Moon has become 
vitalized by the influence of the regenerated Earth, and 
the two Spirits address one another in terms of human 
love. Man, says the Spirit of the Earth, has now become 
a sea reflecting love ; while labour, pain, and grief, are 
gentle as tame beasts. It may be worth while to consider 
for a moment what appears to have been Shelley's idea 
in relation to this child-like Spirit of the Earth, who (as 
we have already seen) appears along with the ancient 
Mother Earth, parent of Titans and of men, and must 
therefore symbolize something different from her. In 
the scene of his first appearance, he addresses Asia as 
"Mother, dearest Mother;" an expression which may 
become clearer to us after we shall have endeavoured to 
define the personality of Asia herself. He was a child 
when the dismal severance of Asia and Prometheus came 
to pass, and remains as yet a child now that they are 
re-united in rapture. Perhaps we should see in this Spirit 
an emblem of the childhood of the world in its golden 
prime before Prometheus had been chained ; a child now 
resuming his career of development, and preparing for his 
larger and unbounded destinies. From another point of 
view, as he is "the delicate spirit that guides the earth 
through heaven," we might regard him as the perpetual 
rejuvenescence of the earth, renewed from day to day, 
from season to season, from year to year, and from aeon 
to seon — never wearied, never ageing, a perpetual child 
among the stars of the firmament. From a passage in 
the note written by Mrs. Shelley to the drama, it would 
appear that Shelley advisedly intended, in this final act 
of it, .to give a new and diverse symbol of the Earth. She 
says, " In the fourth Act the poet: gives further scope to 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 15 

his imagination, and idealizes the forms of creation — such 
as we know them, instead of such as they appeared to the 
Greeks. Maternal Earth the mighty parent is superseded 
by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide of our planet through 
the realms of sky." 

We now come to the last utterance, the last passage, of 
Prometheus Unbound. Demogorgon rises. He addresses 
Daemons and Gods, living beyond heaven's constellated 
wildernesses; he addresses the Dead, who may (the poet 
leaves the point undetermined) be of the nature of the 
universe, or may change and pass away. This is the day 
which, at the spell of the Earthborn, of the Titan Prome^ 
theus, yawns for Heaven's despotism. Gentleness, Virtue, 
Wisdom, and Endurance (the qualities which have sus- 
tained Prometheus through his agelong agonies), are the 
seals to bar the pit over Destruction's strength. To suffer, 
to forgive, to defy, to love, to hope, neither to change nor 
falter nor repent — this is alone life, joy, empire, and 
victory. So, with trumpet-tone as of a world emancipated 
through the sum of its human greatness, terminates the 
Prometheus Unbound of Shelley. 

The general moral conceptions upon which this drama 
proceeds are, I think, sufficiently self-evident : the observa- 
tions which I shall proceed to make upon the personality 
of Prometheus, and of the other agents in the drama, will 
aim to make that point all the more perspicuous. I will 
therefore at this stage limit myself to quoting a few words 
from Mrs. Shelley's note to Prometheus Unbound: — "The 
prominent feature," she says, " of Shelley's theory of the 
destiny of the human species, was that evil is not inherent 
in the system of the creation, but an accident that might 
be expelled. Shelley believed that mankind had only to 
will that there should be no evil, and there would be none. 
It is not my part in these notes to notice the arguments 
that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention 
the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached 
to it with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so 
perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own 
nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the 
cardinal point of his system." No doubt Mrs. Shelley 
speaks correctly here. The idea which Shelley thus 
symbolizes in Prometheus Unbound is the very same which 



16 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

animates Queen Mab, and which is formulated in Julian 
and Maddalo, — not to speak of other poems, especially The 
Revolt of Islam, 

There is one point in Shelley's theory of the perfecti- 
bility of man — of man as he shall exist after the unbind- 
ing of Prometheus — which I should like to illustrate out 
of one of his notes to Queen Mab. It will have been 
observed that Shelley does not — even in this symbolic 
or allegorical method of exposition — contemplate that 
man will become deathless ; on the contrary, he says 
expressly that man will remain subject to death, and 
what death is he declines to attempt defining with any 
precision. But there is a certain sense in which human 
life might be extended or protracted ad infinitum ; the 
note to Queen Mab propounds this. It runs thus : — 

"Time is our consciousness of the succession of ideas in our mind. Vivid 
sensation of either pain or pleasure makes the time seem long, as the common 
phrase is, because it renders us more acutely conscious of our ideas. If a mind 
be conscious of a hundred ideas during one minute by the clock, and of two 
hundred during another, the latter of these spaces would actually occupy so much 
greater extent in the mind as two exceed one in quantity. If therefore the 
human mind, by any future improvement of its sensibility, should become con- 
scious of an infinite number of ideas in a minute, that minute would be eternity. 
I do not hence infer that the actual space between the birth and death 
of a man will ever be prolonged ; but that his sensibility is perfectible, and 
that the number of ideas which his mind is capable of receiving is indefinite. 
Thus the life of a man of virtue and talent who should die in his thirtieth year 
is, with regard to his own feelings, longer than that of a miserable priest-ridden 
slave who dreams out a century of dullness." 

How significant has become to us that phrase about the 
" man of virtue and talent who should die in his thirtieth 
year ! " It is the very age at which Shelley himself died. 

I have now done with the myth of Prometheus Unbound, 
and I proceed to my second stage — the inquiry, " Who 
is Prometheus ? " 

This inquiry I shall at once answer by saying that 
Prometheus is the Mind of Man. I wish to emphasize this 
point, for I think the amplitude and precision of meaning 
in this great ideal drama are only elicited when we have 
realized the definition to ourselves. Prometheus is not in 
a vague general sense man, collective humankind ; he is 
the mind of man — human mind— the intellect of the race — 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 17 

that faculty whereby man is man, not brute. The unbind- 
ing of Prometheus is the unbinding of the Human Mind ; 
the deliverance wrought to mankind by the unbinding of 
Prometheus is the deliverance wrought to man by the 
unbinding of his mind. This, I venture to say, is a 
distinction not without a difference ; and Mrs. Shelley 
was but half-way towards the truth when she wrote that 
her husband figured " Saturn as the good principle, 
Jupiter the usurping evil one, and Prometheus as the 
regenerator." Another of her definitions comes much 
nearer the mark, but still does not exactly hit it : " Prome- 
theus," she says, " is, as it were, the type of the highest 
perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by 
the truest and the purest motives to the best and noblest 
ends." Let me next endeavour to prove, out of Shelley's 
own mouth, that he wished us to identify Prometheus 
with the Mind of Man. 

Shelley's Prometheus is a Titan, a son of Mother Earth. 
Thus Shelley assumes the Mind of Man as earth-born. 
In the first Scene, Prometheus says to Earth, 

"Mother, thy sons and thou 
Scorn him without whose all-enduring will 
Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove 
Both they and thou had vanished : " 

a phrase quite appropriate to the mind, as the sustaining 
and preserving power of the human race. As we have 
seen, Prometheus has in this first scene attained to the 
passion of universal benevolence : he wishes well to all 
things, evil to none — not now even to Jupiter. In the 
curse which he had of old hurled against Jupiter, and 
which he now gets a phantom to recite, are the words, 

14 O'er all things but thyself I gave thee power, 
And my own will : " 

a deeply significant phrase, partly as indicating the 
unvanquishable power of will in the Human Mind, and 
partly as showing that the Mind itself is that which has 
allotted or ascribed power to the Vicissitude of the World : 
but this will be more fully developed when we come to 
speak of Jupiter. " I gave all he has " is a later phrase 
still pointing in the same direction. One of the Furies 



18 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

says to Prometheus, " Dost thou boast the clear know- 
ledge thou waken'dst for man ? " and whence does the 
knowledge of man proceed save from his mind ? Similarly 
Hercules, in unbinding Prometheus, addresses him as the 
form animated by "wisdom, courage, and long-suffering 
love" — all of them attributes of the mind. The Soul of 
Love is the hope and prophecy which begins and ends in 
Prometheus. We must, however, recur to that great 
speech addressed by Asia to Demogorgon. In this speech 
Prometheus is introduced immediately after Asia has 
spoken of the state of mankind under the sway of Saturn ; 
how men were destitute of knowledge, power, the thought 
which pierces the universe, and other high endowments 
of their nature. The very first thing which we hear from 
Asia about Prometheus is this, 

"Then Prometheus 
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter, 
And, with this law alone ' Let man be free,' 
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven." 

Profoundly significant words, to which we are bound to 
attach a positive meaning. I read them thus. When men 
had reached this half-development of their faculties, and 
pined eagerly for more, the Mind of Man invested Jupiter 
with wisdom, or regarded him as the embodiment and 
source of wisdom, and ascribed to him the dominion of 
heaven ; in other words, the Mind of Man created a God 
after its own image. But Jupiter persecuted the race of 
man with divers plagues unknown before. Asia proceeds : — 

" Promethus saw, and waked the legioned hopes 
Which sleep within folded elysian flowers " — 

and so on : we have already perused the passage. Again 
let us interpret. The Mind of Man raised up the hopes 
of an immortal destiny ; it developed mutual love in 
humankind ; it used fire for all useful services. It gave 
man speech, and speech created thought ; poetry, music, 
sculpture, medicine, astronomy, navigation, architecture : — 

" Such, the alleviations of his state, 

Prometheus gave to man : for which he hangs 
Withering in destined pain." 

If once we miss out the word Prometheus, and sub- 
stitute the term " the Human Mind," we can readily 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 19 

understand the assertion that it is the Human Mind 
which has conferred all these benefits upon the race of 
man. But the Mind of Man is oppressed and tormented 
by the very God of its own installation, or (to put it in a 
merely prosaic phrase) by its own false and superstitious 
conceptions in theology ; • and in its own essence it is 
tainted with the passions of rage, hatred, and revenge. 
To these passions Prometheus had given utterance in his 
curse of old agai-nst Jupiter. It is only at the opening of 
our ideal drama, after his " three-thousand years of sleep- 
unsheltered hours," that Prometheus the Human Mind 
utterly rejects these peccant elements — he says at last that 
he is changed so that aught evil wish is dead within, and 
he has no memory of what is hate — 

u It doth repent me : words are quick and vain : 
Grief for a while is blind, and so was mine : 
I wish no living thing to suffer pain." 

As we have already seen, this final superiority of the mind 
over its darker passions is the beginning of the downfall of 
Jupiter, and of the unbinding of Prometheus. 

In the third Act of the drama we find Prometheus 
unbound, and about to retire with Asia and their company 
into a cavern, which, as Prometheus avers, has a peculiar 
virtue of bringing to itself the echoes of the human world, 
and the lovely apparitions 



" Of painting, sculpture, and rapt poesy, 
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.' 



This cavern (we may not be far wrong in thinking) is 
the cavern of the human mind — the recesses of creative 
and contemplative thought, vocal with human sympathy, 
fertile of human enlightenment and elevation. It is 
situated " beyond Indus and its tribute rivers/' or in the 
traditional home of the intellectual Aryan race. This is 
the same cavern in which Mother Earth, at the time when 
Prometheus became the thrall and victim of Jupiter, had 
panted forth her spirit in anguish, and men became mad, 
inhaling the breath of Earth, and raised there a temple 
to Jupiter, and hard by a temple also to Prometheus : 
emblems of that confusion and perversion of thought when 
the aspirations of some of the sons of men struggle against 



20 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

the superstitions and supernatural terrors of others. The 
plan of life which Prometheus lays out for himself and his 
companions in the cavern sounds vague enough : it consists 
in fact of mere mental and spiritual emotion, and creative 
or assimilative acts of thought — bodily energy has no place 
in it : in short, it is to be the life of the mind of man, and 
not of the faculties which he develops as an agent, either 
individually or in society. Therefore I again answer the 
question " Who is Prometheus ? ** by saying " He is the 
Mind of Man." Or let us take an illustration from 
zoological science. As we all know, man is zoologically 
defined as Homo Sapiens. Homo is his generic name, 
Sapiens his specific name. Shelley's Prometheus then 
represents to us man in his species.: he represents the 
Sapiens, as distinguished from the generalized Homo. 

My third inquiry was to be " Who is Asia ? " This point 
is I think a little less clear. We might be inclined to 
regard the union of Prometheus and Asia as the union of 
Mind and Body, or of Mind and Beauty, or of the Intel- 
lectual and the Emotional or Loving elements in the 
Human Soul. But all these definitions, though admissible 
in some partial degree, appear inadequate — they do not go 
far enough. It seems to me that Mrs. Shelley's observa- 
tion, in her note to Prometheus Unbound, is entirely right 
— namely, that Asia symbolizes Nature. She says : " Asia, 
one of the Oceanides, is the wife of Prometheus: she 
was, according to other mythological interpretations, the 
same as Venus and Nature. When the benefactor of 
mankind is liberated, Nature resumes the beauty of her 
prime, and is united to her husband in perfect and happy 
union." Let us follow out this clue a little in detail. 

The first mention of Asia occurs in a speech of Pro- 
metheus at the close of the first Act. Her sister Panthea 
replies saying : 

" And Asia waits in that far Indian vale, 
The scene of her sad exile : rugged once 
And desolate and frozen, like this ravine ; 
But now invested with fair flowers and herbs, 
And haunted by sweet airs and sounds which flow 
Among the woods and waters, from the ether 
Of her transforming presence, which would fade 
If it were mingled not with thine." 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 21 

This strikes the exact keynote. Nature transforms a 
desert into a thing of beauty : but it is only by association 
with Mind — with Human Mind, as we know it — that 
Nature has substantive or conscious being : but for the 
mind which contemplates and imbues it, Nature would be 
a practical nullity — it would have no phenomenal exist- 
ence. When Asia, in the speech which immediately 
ensues, speaks of Prometheus as " that soul by which I 
live," she utters no rhetorical commonplace of sentiment, 
but announces a strict philosophical truth. In a speech of 
Panthea, Asia is referred to as " her whose footsteps pave 
the world with loveliness." The Echoes which guide Asia 
and Panthea on towards the throne of Demogorgon sing 
to Asia — 

" In the world unknown 
Sleeps a voice unspoken : 
By thy step alone 
Can its rest be broken, 
Child of Ocean." 

Nature alone, the unfathomed Evolution of Things, can 
bring the arcane decree into being : as expressed in the 
same connection, " A spell is treasured but for thee alone." 
She is to go 

" To the rents and gulfs and chasms 
Where the Earth reposed from spasms 
On the day when he and thou 
Parted, to commingle now : " 

Nature is to return to that point where the temporary 
divorce between herself and Human Mind, under the 
oppression of Jupiter, had been effected. 

Realizing to ourselves that Asia is Nature, we find a 
deepened significance in that great dialogue of hers with 
Demogorgon to which I have more than once referred ; for 
what more fitting than that Nature should narrate the course 
of things material, and the drama of human life and of 
the Mind of Man, and should finally have to inquire — Who 
is the author of it all ? Is it God, and what is God ? Even 
before this dialogue, while she stood upon the u pinnacle 
of rock among mountains," Asia had questioned whether 
or rot Earth were " the shadow of some Spirit lovelier 
still." After the dialogue, when Demogorgon has departed 



22 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

to operate the downfall of Jupiter, and when Asia and 
Panthea, with the Spirit of the Hour, are in the car, and 
pause " within a cloud on the top of a snowy mountain," 
Panthea says that the beauty of her sister has become 
almost unbearable. She also refers to that day of old 
" when the clear hyaline was cloven at thy uprise," and 
when " Love burst from thee and illumined earth and 
heaven," withother details which clearly enough apply to 
Aphrodite or Venus, thus identified as an embodiment, or 
(to borrow a word from a different theosophy) an avatar, 
of Nature. This, as Panthea says, was before grief eclipsed 
the soul of Asia : now it is the whole world which seeks 
her sympathy. The entire passage and its imagery bear 
upon that glorifying transfigurement of Nature which, 
according to the Shelleian idea in this drama, accompanies 
pari passu the liberation of the Human Mind, Prometheus. 
Then a " Voice in the Air " addresses Asia as " Life of 
Life " — " Lamp of Earth " — " all feel yet see thee never." 
Next follows Asia's rapturous response, the transcendent 
lyric, " My soul is an enchanted boat ; " which can be 
understood in this connection, though it half evades, half 
defies, analysis or exposition. She has traversed in her 
spirit-guided course the regions of Age, Manhood, Youth, 
and Infancy, passing " through Death and Birth to a 
diviner day — peopled by shapes too bright to see ''—for 
Nature is still, even in her utmost glory, a neophyte to the 
realms of super-Nature. 

After his unbinding, Prometheus addresses Asia as 
" light of life — shadow of beauty unbeheld : " a radiancy 
and a mystery — a something known to the Mind of Man, 
and a something obscurely intimating the unknown and 
unknowable. This again is Nature. 

And now for the fourth of our inquiries, "Who is 
Jupiter?" We have partly glanced at this problem 
already ; and have seen — what I will here re-state with 
more precision — that, after Prometheus the Human Mind 
had given him, or had ascribed to him, wisdom, Jupiter 
became the anthropomorphic God of theologians ; and, by 
that selfsame act of the Human Mind, Jupiter became the 
tyrant of humanity. Shelley (as is abundantly evident 
from his drama and from other evidence) considered that, 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 23 

in ascribing wisdom to Jupiter, in clothing Jupiter with 
"the dominion of wide Heaven " — or, as we may say (for 
this is the essence of it), in anthropomorphizing Deity — 
the Human Mind had committed a very great and a rue- 
fully fatal error : Shelley held that this anthropomorphic 
Deity does not really exist. Whether Shelley was right or 
wrong in this opinion I by no means discuss : I simply 
say that such was his opinion. The inference is obvious : 
That the Jupiter such as he subsisted by the act of the 
Human Mind, invested with wisdom and with the dominion 
of Heaven, was but a creation of the Human Mind, and 
could continue to exist in that character and with that 
potency only so long as the Human Mind, which he 
tormented, would tolerate his existence. The Human 
Mind, when first tortured by this recognized Jupiter, had 
cursed him, and defied him as a Fiend : at the close of the 
" three-thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours " the 
Human Mind substituted pity for hatred, and revoked the 
curse ; and the utter downfall of this wise and powerful 
— ail-but all-wise and all-powerful — Jupiter immediately 
ensued. These several considerations lead us to strip 
the Jupiter of Prometheus Unbound of the wisdom and 
dominion which had been delegated to him by Prometheus 
the Human Mind : but they do not enable us to under- 
stand exactly what Jupiter actually is — what he was, let us 
say, before Prometheus had given him wisdom which is 
strength, and clothed him with the dominion of wide 
Heaven. Pie must, at that antecedent epoch, have been 
something. One might at first be inclined to say that he 
was Time — according to that phrase in Asia's speech, 
" Saturn from whose throne Time fell, an envious shadow"; 
or that he was Fate — blind Destiny unimbued with 
wisdom : but Demogorgon will not allow of this, for he 
speaks of certain powers clearly diverse from Jupiter — 

"Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance, and Change — to these 
•All things are subject but eternal Love." 

I will therefore hazard another definition, and say that, as 
near as we can name him, Jupiter is, in his own essence, 
Fortune, or the Vicissitude of the World. Fortune, a 
power destitute of what we call moral attributes, became, 
when invested by the Human Mind with wisdom and 



24 SHELLE Y'S PROMETHE US UN BO UND. 

dominion, an anthropomorphic Deity ; and his operations, 
being in fact capricious and unregulated, turned, when 
interpreted into acts of unlimited power guided by wisdom, 
into tyranny and evil. 

It may be confessed that the dramatic position of 
Shelley's Jupiter is an ambiguous and hardly a tenable 
one. As a dramatis persona he necessarily figures as wise, 
the sovereign of Heaven, and tyrannous to man. But (if 
I have correctly analysed the core of meaning in the 
drama) we know that he is really, in Shelley's conception, 
not wise nor the sovereign of Heaven, but only supposed 
to be so by Prometheus the Mind of Man in an initial 
stage of his own development ; and he is not really 
tyrannous to man, but only tyrannizing in and through the 
Mind of Man, thus imperfectly developed. This am- 
biguity is not inherent in the Greek legend, which, whether 
siding with Jupiter or with Prometheus (a point which may 
seem of some uncertainty), contemplates both Jupiter and 
Prometheus as equally real, or at any rate as equally 
symbolic of a real relation of the facts. It is merely 
inherent in the re-interpretation of the Greek legend which 
Shelley adopts and dramatizes. — I must now leave for your 
more leisurely consideration these general data concerning 
the Jupiter of Prometheus Unbound, and must proceed 
to exhibit the details of the poem upon which my view 
is founded. 

The very first words in our drama, spoken by Pro- 
metheus, tell us what Jupiter is. He is 

" Monarch of Gods and Daemons, and all Spirits — 
But one — who throng those bright and rolling worlds ; " 

he is that supreme entity which we have called the 
Vicissitude of the World ; he has also become the personal 
or anthropomorphic God of theology or of superstition ; 
but even so he is not the monarch of the one spirit, the 
Mind of Man, which persists in exercising its free-will, and 
in protesting against the oppression of Vicissitude. We 
may conceive him as an elemental and spiritual deity, 
robed now in oppression because the Mind of Man 
arbitrarily assigned to him wisdom, and dominion over the 
concerns of heaven and earth. Prometheus proceeds to 
address him as " Almighty, had I deigned to share the 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 25 

shame of thine ill tyranny'': if the Mind of Man acquiesced 
in all the evils that are done under the sun, if it ceased to 
protest against wrong, Jupiter's power would nowhere 
encounter any opposition. In the colloquy (so often 
referred to) between Asia and Demogorgon, Asia asks, 
" Who made terror, madness, crime, remorse," pain, and 
hell, or the sharp fear of hell, and other miserable evils of 
the state of man : and Demogorgon replies, " He reigns" 
— which is as much as to say " Jupiter made them." 
The Vicissitude of the World, construed as the will of the 
personal and anthropomorphic God, has produced these 
scourges of humankind. When Asia presses Demogorgon 
to define the God of whom he had previously spoken as the 
author of all good things in the world, whereas Jupiter is 
the author of evil things, Demogorgon replies — 

' ' I spoke but as ye speak, 
For Jove is the supreme of living things." 

This amounts to saying — There is no personal supreme 
being other than Jupiter : he, as a personal supremacy, 
creates only evil : the Universe, and that which is good in 
it, subsist independently of him — they are self-subsisting, 
and did not come into being by any personal creative 
act. Then the Spirit of the Hour of Jupiter's downfall 
announces that Demogorgon " shall wrap in lasting night 
Heaven's kingless throne." Heaven will exist, and Earth 
will exist : but Heaven will be kingless, for Jupiter will 
be gone. In the ensuing scene Jupiter himself speaks : 
he declares that his antique empire is " built on eldest 
faith, and faith's coeval, fear." Not on love, not on truth, 
is his empire built, but on faith and fear — or (as we might 
paraphrase the terms) on credulity and superstitious 
terror : an unstable foundation, therefore a fleeting 
empire. And forthwith Heaven's throne becomes king- 
less, for Demogorgon arrives, and Jupiter sinks into end- 
less nothingness, 

" Dizzily down — ever, for ever down." 

We need follow him no further. As Demogorgon has 
just been announcing to Jupiter : — 

" The tyranny of Heaven none may retain, 
Or reassume or hold, succeeding thee." 



26 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

Under the influence of the protest of Prometheus the 
Human Mind, and of his final forgiveness and pity, and 
at the unevadeable fiat of Demogorgon, Jupiter, the 
personal anthropomorphic " Supreme of living things," is 
gone, and his place knows him no more. 

11 He sunk to the abyss — to the dark void." 

Our fifth and last inquiry was to be " Who is Demogor- 
gon ? " To this there is, I suppose, only one answer, 
being Demogorgon's own answer to Jupiter — he is Eternity. 
Jupiter asks, " Awful Shape, what art thou ? Speak ! " and 
Demogorgon replies — " Eternity : demand no direr name." 
Beyond this decisive explanation, I need only cull a few 
illustrative details. The first mention of Demogorgon is 
in that speech of Mother Earth, in Act i, where she says 
that there are two worlds of life and death — one of these 
being a world of shadows, tenanted by the simulacra of 
the agents in the other living world, and among the 
shadows is "Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom." When 
Asia and Panthea have reached the "pinnacle of rock 
among mountains," they stand at the portal of Demogor- 
gon's realm : hence an oracular vapour is hurled up which 
men " call truth, virtue, love, genius, or joy — the madden- 
ing wine of life." These are mysterious utterances, 
proper to a mysterious subject : in a general way, we 
gather that the emotions or faculties thus referred to 
emanate from eternity, and partake of its nature. A 
" Song of Spirits " addressed to Asia and Panthea says 
that " the Eternal, the Immortal," is now to unloose " the 
snake-like doom coiled underneath his throne " : this 
Eternal or Immortal is none other than Demogorgon. In 
the interview with Jupiter, Demogorgon, immediately after 
declaring that he is Eternity, adds : — 

"lam thy child, as thou wert Saturn's child, 
Mightier than thee. And we must dwell together 
Henceforth in darkness. " 

As Jupiter, the Vicissitude of the World and anthro- 
pomorphic God, succeeded Saturn, the author of Time 
and patriarchal ruler of a world of semi-humanized man- 
kind, so Demogorgon, Eternity, succeeds Jupiter. Jupiter 
is merged into and abolished by Eternity. We can, I 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 27 

think, at once seize some part of Shelley's thought in 
this assumption : to follow it out by laboured development 
or a long train of ratiocination is no part of my under- 
taking. In the final scene of all Demogorgon re-appears, 
"a mighty Power which is as darkness." He speaks, 
with " an universal sound like words," to the Spirit of the 
Earth, the Spirit of the Moon, Daemons and Gods, the 
Dead, the Elemental Genii, the Living Creatures and Plants 
and Phsenomena of the Earth, and to Man ; and terminates 
the great ideal drama in the following words : — 

" This is the day which down the void abysm, 

At the Earth-born's spell, yawns for Heaven's despotism, 

And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep. 
Love, from its awful throne of patient power 
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour 

Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep, 
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs, 
And folds over the world its healing wings. 

"Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance — 
These are the seals of that most firm assurance 

Which bars the pit over Destruction's strength ; 
And, if with infirm hand Eternity, 
Mother of many acts and hours, should free 

The serpent that would clasp her with his length, 
These are the spells by which to reassume 
An empire o'er the disentangled doom. 

" To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite ; 
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night ; 

To defy power which seems omnipotent ; 
To love and bear ; to hope till hope creates 
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates ; 

Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent ; 
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be 
Good, great, and joyous, beautiful and free ; 
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory ! " 

It will be observed that, in this speech, Demogorgon 
refers to Eternity as if it were something other than 
himself: he says — 

"If with infirm hand Eternity, 
Mother of many acts and hours, should free 
The serpent that would clasp her with his length." 

This phrase need not, however, lessen our conviction that 
Demogorgon symbolizes Eternity. He is Eternity per- 
sonified — personified so far as " a power which is as 



28 SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 

darkness " can be called personified : and he here speaks 
of Eternity in its operations, under a different veil of 
personating words, " mother of many acts and hours." 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have now accomplished my 
undertaking of considering the main outline and purport 
of Prometheus Unbound, under the head of its myth, and 
of its four primary personages — Prometheus, Asia, Jupiter, 
and Demogorgon ; and I have shown that (according to 
my view of the poem) Prometheus is the Mind of Man, 
Asia is Nature, Jupiter is the Vicissitude of the World 
transmuted into anthropomorphic deity, and Demogorgon 
is Eternity. Here therefore I might conclude : but, if you 
will bear with me a very little longer, I will with utmost 
succinctness say a few more words to sum up the intel- 
lectual and moral bearing of a poem than which, as 
Blackwood's Magazine averred in 1820, "it is quite im- 
possible that there should exist a more pestiferous mix- 
ture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality." I read 
it thus. 

The Universe (spoken of as Heaven, Earth, and Light) 
is eternal and self-existing : it had no creator. The 
primary powers of the Universe, or (as we may say) its 
spiritual functions, are Love, Fate, Occasion, Chance, and 
Change. Of these no beginning and no origin can be 
predicated, nor yet any end. Of Man, the earliest age is 
called the Saturnian Age, when Time became a factor 
in the world. Men in that age, being intellectually un- 
developed, lived a natural and therefore so far a happy 
life, like animals, or indeed like plants. Ultimately 
Human Mind was evolved, or, mythically speaking, Pro- 
metheus came into being, and was united to Nature, as 
in the espousals of man and wife. One of the first acts 
of Human Mind was to create a God in his own image : 
he assigned wisdom to Jupiter — that is, to the Vicissitude 
of the World — and ascribed to him the dominion of 
Heaven, stipulating only that man should be free — free 
in will and in act. The mere animal happiness, or natural 
conformity, of man had lapsed with the birth of Mind : 
under the theocracy which the mind of man had estab- 
lished, everything went amiss. The natural operations of 
the Vicissitude of the World, such as want, toil, and 



SHELLEY'S PROMETHEUS UNBOUND. 29 

disease, became grievously oppressive when they were 
regarded as the decree of Omniscient Omnipotence ; and 
the spirit of mankind was a theatre of dismal cravings and 
chafings. To this catastrophe of all human well-being 
the Mind of Man supplied numerous and noble palliatives ; 
but it sank beneath the stern theocratic sway — Prometheus 
was bound and tortured. Still the potential remedy for 
the multiform and monstrous evil remained in the human 
mind itself — it remains in the human mind at this moment. 
When the mind shall finally have rejected the delusions 
(such Shelley considered them) of theocracy, and shall 
have purged itself of the dark passions of hatred and 
revenge, then will the moment of emancipation be sound- 
ing. Eternity itself will conspire with the human mind 
to launch the world of man upon a new career — a career 
of boundless progression, in which even the planet which 
man inhabits will participate. The theocracy, with all its 
attendant evils, will vanish into nothingness ; the Human 
Mind will be re-united to Nature in indissoluble and bound- 
less concord ; and only chance and death and mutability 
will dispute with man the future of his globe. 




Printed by Richard Clay & Sons, Bread Street Hill, 
October. 1886. 






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